Louise’s lowdown: Employee benefits are a key component in supporting fuller working lives

In February 2017, the government published its Fuller working lives: a partnership approach report, outlining its strategy to encourage individuals over the age of 50 to remain in work. This includes partnering with employers to better support people to stay in work for longer or to re-enter the workforce, whether that be employees looking to continue in the same line of work or those taking on a different career path.

Andy Briggs, chief executive officer at Aviva UK Life and the government’s business champion for older workers alongside Business in the Community’s age at work leadership team, which he chairs, has also put out a call for action: a million more older people in work by 2022, with UK employers increasing the number of 50-69 year olds that they employ by 12% in the next five years. To help employers reach this goal, Briggs and Business in the Community have published a how-to guide that sets out three key steps: understanding the workforce demographic; listening to older employees’ wants and needs; and taking action to retain, retrain and recruit older staff.

Encouraging employees to remain in work for longer could help to address myriad issues, from skills shortages, which are expected to be compounded by Brexit, to pensions, health and care costs groaning under the weight of an ageing population. There are advantages for individuals too, such as the social interaction, financial gains, stimulation and fulfilment many find in work, while employers can benefit from the knowledge, experience, and diverse perspectives older workers can contribute to the business.

However, not all those who stay in the workforce for longer do so out of choice, and even when they do willingly remain in the workplace, they can face barriers such as a lack of learning and development opportunities, health issues, and caring responsibilities.

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This is where employee benefits have a role to play, positioned within a supportive, inclusive and flexible workplace culture. Health and wellbeing programmes, accompanied by line manager training, can ensure that older workers receive the support they require; a benefits proposition that offers choice can enable staff to select the benefits that best suit their lifestyles; tailored motivation and recognition strategies can help to keep older workers happy and engaged with the organisation; flexible-working policies can allow older workers to take a phased approach to retirement or adjust their working patterns as needed; care-related benefits such as emergency eldercare or carer networks can provide support for employees who may be caring for a partner, relative or grandchild; financial wellbeing schemes can help older workers to manage their finances as their circumstances change; and volunteering leave and corporate social responsibility initiatives can enable older workers to share their time and skills with causes that matter both to them and to the business.

According to the Resolution Foundation’s January 2017 Live long and prosper? report, which draws on Office for National Statistics’ (ONS) data, 28% of those born in the period 2001-2015 are expected to reach 100 years old, rising to 36% of those born between 2016 and 2035. So this is not just about best practice in supporting older workers now and through to 2022, rather it is the bedrock of what could be a long-term shift in the profile of the workforce. With almost half (45%) of the generation that will be born in 2036-2055 expected to turn 100 years old, how long will someone aged 50 even be considered an ‘older worker’?